Remembering Ishrat through rediscovered emails

Publish | 01 Jul 2017, 14:49

Chanchal Khan

A year has gone by since Ishrat (our Neela) left us on the dreadful Holey Artisan massacre night. Enough has been reminisced about her life, personality and professional talents. Ishrat, my niece and a friend, was an artiste herself, and a great connoisseur of art and music, and an art curator and a critique, a passion led profession she decided to pursue alongside her human resource management skills. Today, I remember her with fondness built around so many memories. Memories are one place we can visit those we have lost. Since memories are portable, we can take our lost loved ones with us anywhere at anytime. I was searching my Gmail folders, which apparently can store plenty of emails without having to erase these to free space frequently.

A few months before her death, she sent me a poem (unknown author), as she would share poetry, pictures, quotes or her thoughts on issues she wanted to pursue. Here is one poem retrieved from her emails to me:

“Mama, how true and how beautiful this poem is:

Today, upon a bus, I saw a very beautiful woman
And wished I were as beautiful.
When suddenly she rose to leave,
I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and wore a crutch.
But as she passed, she passed a smile.
Oh, forgive me when I whine.
I have two legs; the world is mine.

I stopped to buy some candy.
The lad who sold it had such charm.
I talked with him, he seemed so glad.
If I were late, it’d do no harm.
And as I left, he said to me,
“I thank you,
You’ve been so kind.
It’s nice to talk with folks like you.
You see,” he said, “I’m blind.”
Oh, forgive me when I whine.
I have two eyes; the world is mine.

Later while walking down the street,
I saw a child I knew.
He stood and watched the others play,
But he did not know what to do.
I stopped a moment and then I said,
“Why don’t you join them dear?”
He looked ahead without a word.
I forgot, he couldn’t hear.
Oh, forgive me when I whine.
I have two ears; the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I’d go.
With eyes to see the sunset’s glow.
With ears to hear what I’d know.
Oh, forgive me when I whine.
I’ve been blessed indeed, the world is mine.”

In another email, Ishrat reflects on her true sense of love between humans, and how to overcome the narrow boundaries of life, religion and the world. I remember her great admiration for Rabindranath’s “Chitto Jetha Bhoyshunno (Where the mind is without fear)”. In a similar philosophical keystone, Ishrat wrote to me:

“Life isn’t about keeping score. It’s not about how many
people call you and it’s not about who you’ve dated, are
dating, or haven’t dated at all. It isn’t about who you’ve
kissed, what sport you play, or which girl or guy likes you.
It’s not about your shoes or your hair or the color of your
skin or where you live or go to school. In fact, it’s not
about grades, money, clothes, or colleges that accept you.

Life isn’t about if you have lots of friends, or if you are
alone, and it’s not about how accepted or unaccepted you are.
Life just isn’t about that. But life is about who you love and
who you hurt. It’s about how you feel about yourself. It’s
about trust, happiness, and compassion. It’s about sticking up
for your friends and replacing inner hate with love. Life is
about avoiding jealousy, overcoming ignorance, and building
confidence. It’s about what you say and what you mean. It’s
about seeing people for who they are and not what they have.
Most of all, it’s about choosing to use your life to touch
someone else’s in a way that could never have been achieved
otherwise. These choices are what life’s about.”

Ishrat thought, wrote and acted beyond and outside the box. She was a creative thinker. Art to her was a tool for transforming human lives, aesthetically, philosophically and morally. Her happiness knew no bounds with her surroundings, her home, her friends and above all her Bangladesh, despite many odds in her life. After she started leading the Gulshan based Institute of Art and Culture (IAC), she, besides managing the usual functions of an art gallery thought of having a round table discussion on: ‘Awareness building on Traffic situation in Dhaka’, at the centre followed by a group art show titled: “The Stilled Journey of Life…” I chaired the session. Her beautiful prologue in the discussion was the following, emailed to me earlier for any corrections. I hardly could edit it. She wrote:

“In this growing city, the value of capitalism is favoring many
migrants and can perceive greater prospects in Dhaka. As a result,
extreme traffic count has stilled the journey of many. To discuss
about the possible ways to overcome the traffic situation and
maintaining traffic rules, IAC invites the participants to engage in
this initiative. By creating awareness of traffic congestion can
reduce the discomfort in Dhaka. The campaign of IAC is to emphasis
more attention to follow traffic rules in Dhaka city. As the city
is for all and all should be aware of protecting the city. The appeal
of using art forms, which is a powerful medium, is to resolve issues
by following traffic system. The visual art can be effective to the
community on awareness building and through art could touch the
viewer’s consciousness. It also could Inspire them to get involve by following
traffic rules, with motifs of art would convey the messages of traffic and
its system…thus we call it the stilled journey of life…!

Ishrat and I were friends, beyond being merely two people in a blood connected ‘relatives’ circle. I shared with her my dream of having a television channel purely dedicated to music, culture, art and creativity. A true avenue for education and societal change. It came into being taking the name of Gaan Bangla, albeit later robbed off us, like a child stolen from the mother’s lap. When the idea was being mooted, she wrote to me the following:

“Dear Mama:

Congratulations on the progress of Gaan Bangla and greetings from the team of Institute of Art and Culture (IAC).

I am sure you are delighted to have a look at our IAC premises this evening and it is time to launch IAC. And you, being a well-wisher and advisor of IAC; have much to contribute from the inception with your creative thoughts and hosting different programs from your channel.

As we have planned to go for a year long art exhibition (from the artists of all corners of the country) we are also giving emphasis on literature and art talks. We have invited Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferry in Bangladesh for the first time to read and have a workshop on creative writing on 6-7th of April. We would be very happy if your forthcoming channel “Gaan Bangla” arranges an interview with the author as well as captures the moments from his workshop from our premises.

Ashok is a Guest Lecturer at the Colombo School of Architecture and the host of his own TV show, The Ashok Ferrey Show, an arts programme on national television. In his spare time he is a personal trainer to the rich and infamous of Colombo.

We would be very happy if IAC and Gaan Bangla join hands with a collaborative arrangement (on art integrating with music) and give emphasis on the overall creative segment of Bangladeshi art and culture.

With this thought I am sure we will be able to “enrich lives through art and culture” of Bangladesh.

Please feel free to mail me if you may have any queries.

Thanking you in advance


Ishrat believed in cultural diversity, societal harmony, pluralism, humanism and change through collective learning. She led a number of art galleries, but saw objects of art and paintings as not merely commercial products or items of collection for those who could afford these. While establishing the Institute of Art and Culture (IAC), she wrote the following, sent to me again for inputs, and I had nothing to add:

“IAC was created through the concerted vision of a diverse group of contemporary artists and the ardent support of many of the patrons of art in Bangladesh. The unified objective of the center is to provide a venue for promoting art and the artists’ endeavours through personal development; public interaction; and exchange of ideas through discussion and debate.
The center aims to offer a platform to artists for enhancement of their creative aptitude through formal and informal training, workshops, exhibitions and various types of programs related to visual art as well other areas of liberal arts.

CAC will offer the facilities of gallery spaces, a research center, a seminar room equipped with audio visual and film editing capabilities and a dedicated workspace for groups of young artists to expand and share their creative talent. In addition there is also a facility available for fashion designing. The art center also hopes to offer a modern café in an informal setting for artists to commingle.

The CAC is the first initiative of the concerted efforts of the advisors of the CAC, a non-profit organization. The CAC was created with an idea to provide an opportunity for an active communication between the artists and the community through stimulating discussions and active participation including public interaction.”

Ishrat would often talk about intellectual freedom and enhancing the quality of intellectual life of the younger generation in Bangladesh. She went to the All India Institute of Management (AIIM) and almost stitched a collaborative undertaking with them in promoting leadership training and creative learning skills among the young generation Bangladeshis. Ishrat had several opportunities to work and live abroad, something she avoided doing just to be here and work here. She created what she called Mind Venture Leadership Forum. This stopped with her death. Ishrat wrote about her vision here:

“Mind Venture is about creating a Leadership Forum, combined with skill based school affiliation from AIIM, including strategic partnership with local and international organizations. This organization will be a combination of both commercial and philosophical viewpoint- where it will talk about fair trade as well as development of the youth.

This platform would consist of two groups, givers and takers. One would have an expert from the industry and the second one would have a pool of talents. The industry is facing challenges where they don’t know where to find out the competent candidates. Our prime focus will be to find out the right people for the right place which will not only ensure the betterment of industry but also a better carrier for the youth. The youth will be meeting with the successful ones and know the reason for success. Besides sharing thoughts on a common platform they will have the opportunity of getting mentorship one to one.

Both formal and informal skill development initiatives will be taken by us to ensure that. One to one mentorship by providing the apprentice an opportunity which will give them long term and short term benefits. Not only leaders from the country but also successful NRBs who have shown great leadership in a completely different society will also be involved in this process”. She had a detailed plan in operationalizing this vision and the mission she had in mind.

I would like to see Ishrat again. She was by no means an ordinary person. Her death is a significant chapter in the story of our Bangladesh life. It has changed the outcome of many of her intentions to create a happy society led by the finest intellectually powerful young Bangladeshis. Life will not be the same for those who knew her. I learned the imminence of death, and that living is the privilege of those who will eventually die. I think of Ishrat often. She seems to be everywhere. When I think about society and changes, or even sing a song sheliked, or appreciate a piece of an artobject, I wonder what Ishratwould say about it. Ishrat has affected many of us, and I am glad because I am one of them.

Sometimes when I pass by her past work place, primarily the art centres and galleries in Dhaka, I watch things that perhaps others may not normally see. I see the beauty that lies in the natural earth. I feel the wind brush my face, and I wonder what heaven is like, but I don’t wonder if Ishrat is there. I know she is.

Writer: eminent Tagore singer and a friend and relative of Ishrat Akhond.

Source: bdnews24